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Flag flown by the UIF
Northern Alliance troops lined up next to the runway at Bagram Air Base, December 16, 2001.

The United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIF, Jabha-yi Muttahid-i Islami-yi Milli bara-yi Nijat-i Afghanistan), more commonly known as the Northern Alliance, was a military-political umbrella organization created by the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1996. The organization united various Afghan groups fighting against each other to fight the Taliban instead.

The Northern Alliance includes Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, and Turkmen. Some of these ethnic groups are Shi’a or Ismaili. Among the groups that make up the Northern Alliance are:

Jamiat-I Islami-yi Afghanistan (The Islamic Party of Afghanistan), headed by Rabbani and made up of predominantly Farsi-speaking Sunni Muslims.

Hizb-I Wahdat-I Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Part of Afghanistan) is the primary Shi’a party made up of ethnic Hazaras and supported militarily and politically by Iran.

Junbish-I Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) is a group of former members of the Communist regime.

Harakat-I Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) is another shi’a party, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Asif Muhsini.

In late 2001, with assistance from U.S. air support and US Special Forces, the UIF succeeded in retaking most of Afghanistan from the Taliban. Despite fears of a return to the chaos similar to that of the Afghan Civil War (1992-1996), the UIF factions largely accepted the new order.


Organization and history

Map of the situation in Afghanistan just before October 2001

The mujahideen fighters who had previously defeated the communist government and formed the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA) came under attack and in 1996 lost the capital to the Taliban. At this juncture the mujahideen resorted to the creation of UIF because Rashid Dostum and other warlords who belonged to various tribes but to no specific political party did not want to recognize the ISA as a legal entity, so the defeated government devised a military strategy to utilize these forces while not offending their political sensibilities.

Although recognised by most foreign nations as the legal government, it only controlled up to 30% of the country. President Burhanuddin Rabbani was the national head of the United Islamic Front, however the central government had little power and personnel changes were frequent. The exception to this was the post of Defence Minister, which was held by Ahmed Shah Massoud and Mohammed Fahim. Before the 9/11 attacks; Russia, China, the Central Asian nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States, India, Turkey and Iran were giving aid to UIF. However Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were supporting the Taliban.

Three ethnic groups dominated the UIF: the Tajiks, who make up 27% of Afghanistan's population and are the second largest ethnic group, the Hazara and the Uzbeks, who each make up about 9% of the population. From the Taliban conquest in 1996 until November 2001 the UIF controlled roughly 30% of Afghanistan's population in provinces such as Badakhshan, Kapisa, Takhar and parts of Parwan, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Samangan, Qunduz, Ghor and Bamiyan, all in the north of the country (hence the name 'Northern Alliance'). Throughout the campaign against the Taliban, the Northern Alliance's fortunes fluctuated, but neither side succeeded in gaining a major advantage.

The political leader of the alliance was Burhanuddin Rabbani; however, he was little more than a front man for the military commanders. Ahmed Shah Massoud served as the UIF's Minister of Defence and was by far its most visible and powerful figure. He personally commanded around 10,000 of the UIF's estimated 40,000 troops (Massoud's were also the best trained and best equipped troops within the UIF). Several other important military leaders controlled different factions within the alliance, including Abdul Rashid Dostum, General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan. General Dostum had the right to nominate six ministers, including those of defense and foreign affairs, and was the military commander in northern Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance's air element was made up from aircraft that were brought to Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as well as of those delivered by the alliance's allies later. This consisted of MiG-21s, Mi-8, Mi-17s and Mi-24s.[1] They were engaged in heavy combat with the Taliban ground and air forces and few did survive.

On September 13, 2001, it was confirmed that Ahmad Shah Massoud had died following an attack by al-Qaeda assassins posing as Saudi journalists four days earlier on September 9. Mohammed Fahim, the next most senior Tajik commander, succeeded Massoud a few days later. In November and December 2001 the UIF gained control of much of the country, including the capital Kabul. This was facilitated by extensive bombing of Taliban forces and military infrastructure by the United States during the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.


A UIF fighter in the Helmand Province on January 1, 2002.

The UIF was composed of roughly five of the factions of mujahideen fighters. Iran and Turkey considered there to be seven factions in total. These groups were:


The United Front was extremely influential in the transitional Afghan Government of Hamid Karzai. Notably, Mohammed Fahim became the Vice President and Minister of Defence, Yunus Qanuni became the Minister of Education and Security Advisor and Dr Abdullah Abdullah became the Foreign Minister. Most foreign observers expected this dominance to continue and for Fahim or Qanuni to be selected as Karzai's Vice President in the 2004 elections. However, Karzai instead selected Ahmad Zia Massoud, younger brother of the former United Front leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Karzai easily won the 2004 Presidential election with 55.4% of the vote, followed by three former leaders of the UIF, Quanuni (16.3%), Mohaqiq (11.7%) and Dostum (10%).

The majority of the alliance is now part of the United National Front (Afghanistan) which is led by Rabbani and includes many former leaders of the UIF such as Parliamentary Speaker Yunus Qanuni, Mohammed Fahim, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud. The United National Front has positioned itself as a "loyal" opposition to Karzai. A number of former UIF members are however loyal to Karzai, notably Abdul Sayyaf.

Some of the military strength of the UIF has now been absorbed into the Military of Afghanistan, while many of the remaining soldiers were disarmed through a nationwide disarmament program. The existence and strength of the Afghan National Army has significantly reduced the threat of the former UIF elements attempting to use military action against the new NATO-backed government. Most of the country's senior military personnel are former members of the UIF, including Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and General Bismillah Khan.

Human rights abuses

Much criticism has been leveled against the United Islamic Front for alleged breaches of human rights, by both Afghan and international groups, such as the Dasht-i-Leili massacre, which spawned the documentary Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death. The influence allied warlords have in their territories where they make their own, often draconian, laws is one factor. Human Rights Watch has released documents alleging internal displacement and executions, widespread rape, arbitrary arrests and "disappearances" targeted against the civilian population.[2]


While the Taliban have been most commonly criticized for their perceived role in the cultivation and distribution of opium, areas controlled by the Northern Alliance have also been responsible for the cultivation of opium. A 2001 U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention study found that, following a Taliban ban on opium cultivation, opium production in Afghanistan had dropped 91 percent in 2001, even though the country had earlier accounted for 71 percent of the world supply. However, opium production in Northern Alliance-controlled areas remained stable.[3]

See also


  1. ^ World aircraft information files, Bright Star Publishing London, File 332 Sheet 3
  2. ^ Press Backgrounder: Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition
    (Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2001)
  3. ^ "Most Opium Reported Grown In Northern Alliance Areas". United Nations Foundation. October 05, 2001. Retrieved 2009-11-21. 

External links



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